Yanaka is known as a temple town, but none of the temples enjoy as much attention as the well-known places of worship in Tokyo such as Senso-ji and Meiji Shrine. This is actually mainly due to the modest size of these temples in Yanaka. They are small but beautiful, and that is not an understatement. While walking through Tokyo you see all kinds of temples, small, big, pretty and not so pretty. Yanaka keeps impressing me due to the sheer beauty of its temples. In this article, I introduce my 18 favourite temples in Yanaka.
There are 117 temples in the Yanesen area (covering Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi), with the large majority (76) in Yanaka. Most of the temples belong the the Nichiren school of Buddhism (38%). The Tendai school is second (24%) (source). For this list I picked up the ones that I like and the ones with an interesting story. Almost all are located in Yanaka, with a few just on the border. The temple buildings itself are usually between 100 and 300 years old.
If 18 temples is way too much for you, I am also showcasing my 5 most favourite temples in Yanaka in a separate article.
Please note that temples are sometimes closed on special occasions. So it might be possible that you cannot enter.
Established in 1274, it is the oldest temple in Yanaka. Even though it was initially a Nichiren temple, at the end of the 17th century it was forced to convert to Tendai, as their particular type of Nichiren was deemed anti-regime. Tennō-ji used to be a major temple in this area as evidenced by the huge cemetery (Yanaka Reien) next door that was part of this temple, but when the cemetery was nationalized in 1873, Tennō-ji also lost some of its glory. Its temple grounds used to be 10 times the size of what it is now. It was also one of three temples in the Edo period (1603-1868) that was authorized to hold lotteries, making it a very popular temple. However, these lotteries were eventually banned in the 19th century. These days, the beautifully maintained garden, with bronze buddha statue (cast in 1690) is the main thing to watch for.
Tennō-ji temple with bronze buddha statue.
Name in Japanese: 天王寺
Hidden from sight from the visitors of Tennō-ji and Yanaka Reien, this temple is usually very quiet. Established in 1826, it is considered a sub-temple of Tennō-ji. This temple is famous for its wooden statue of Amida Nyorai (principal buddha in Pure Land Buddhism). It is made out of Hinoki wood and measures 98.3 cm in height (you need to go inside to see it, temple buildings are usually not open, so you will need to contact the monk). The temple’s garden is well-tended with lots of flowers.
Anryūin main temple building.
Name in Japanese: 安立院
This Tendai temple was established in 1666 and was first the residence of one of the priests of the Kan’eiji temple nearby, before becoming a temple in its own right. It is worth passing by due to its 84000 Jizo statues (guardian deities of children), very impressive to look at. Read more about Jōmyōin in my full article.
Jizo at Jōmyōin temple.
Name in Japanese: 浄名院
4. Kanda Kannōji
Nichiren temple established in 1596. You can find the grave of Shibue Chusai at this temple (see photo, you can find this grave on the left hand side of the temple building). Shibue Chusai was a medical practitioner and Confucian scholar, born in 1805, the son of the doctor to the Hirosaki clan. He became famous through a biography written by Mori Ogai. Also take a look at the magnificent tree at the back of the cemetery.
The grave of Shibue Chusai at Kanda Kannōji.
Name in Japanese: 神田感応寺
5. Jishō-in Aizen-dō
Old monastery (Shingi Shingon) originally built in Kanda in 1611 and moved to Yanaka in 1648. It is mainly known for the statue of Myō-ō, which Kankai (the priest at this temple) is said to have picked up during his pilgrimage to Mount Kōya (which is the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism). Praying to this statue is supposed to bring luck in finding marriage partners and bring household harmony.
Main hall of Jishō-in: Aizen-dō
Name in Japanese: 自性院 愛染堂
As the previous temple, this one was also built in Kanda in 1611 and moved here in 1648. The temple building is a little bit tucked away in the back and not very visible. A red umbrella has been tucked next to it which gives a nice color contrast. The special thing about this temple is the blackboard at the entrance on which a new piece of wisdom is written from time to time.
Towards the main building of Konreiji, hidden between greens.
The blackboard at Konreiji.
Name in Japanese: 金嶺寺
Nichiren temple established in 1588. I was originally not planning to visit this temple, but the beautiful temple gate lured me in. The temple building is beautifully made in light wood. The tree in front of the temple is a sakura tree, so this place is extra beautiful in spring.
Daigyōji temple main building (also used as main feature image at the top of this page)
Name in Japanese: 大行寺
Nichiren temple that was established in 1617. Impressive number of buildings (only a bit unfortunate they have the parking lot inside the temple grounds, as is often the case with temples though). This temple contains the grave of Ota Kinjo (1765-1825), a famous confucian scholar.
Name in Japanese: 一乗寺
Gyokurinji is a Soto school temple established in 1591. When you approach the temple, you cannot help but notice the towering Himalayan cedar, almost as famous as the cedar near Mikado Pan. The other point of interest at this temple is the statue of Chiyonofuji (Japanese champion sumo wrestler and 58th yokozuna), a recent addition to this temple (2011). Very close to this temple is a traditional water pump, which used to be a central meeting point of a shitamachi community. It is still in use by the people in the neighbourhood. You can find it if you follow the small road on the right hand side of the temple. You will pass it if you follow the route from Ichijōji to Gyokurinji (I marked it on the map). This route is bringing you through very narrow and green streets, highly recommended.
Chiyonofuji statue at Gyokurinji
Name in Japanese: 玉林寺
To reach this temple you first need to cross an empty lot that is being used as a parking space, but once you get inside of the gate it is quite amazing. This Rinzai school temple was established in 1630 and moved to its current location in 1681. It contains some very old memorial stones from the time when commoners were not allowed to have their own grave. You can find them on the left around a smooth granite stone.
Rinkōji and its lush surroundings.
Name in Japanese: 臨江寺
11. Enjuji Nikkadō
Enjuji Nikkadō is a Nichiren temple that was set up in 1656 and enshrines a 14th century monk called Nichika that will protect walkers/strollers. Inside of the dark wooden building you can find depictions of traditional walking shoes. Especially runners come to this temple to pray. It is very close to Yanaka’s famous Himalaya cedar.
Inside of Enjuji
Name in Japanese: 延寿寺日荷堂
Nichiren temple established in 1630. Stands out with its wooden red gate. Interestingly, this temple is know for exorcising worms that are believed to be responsible for children’s tempers and insomnia.
Gate of Rengeji.
Name in Japanese: 蓮華寺
Zuirinji is one of the biggest temples in Yanaka. This Nichiren temple was established in 1591 and is mainly famous for the grave of Okubo Monto, a 17th century retainer of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and pioneer of Edo’s drinking water system. The intricate wood carvings in the temple eaves stand out.
Wood carvings at Zuirinji.
Name in Japanese: 瑞輪寺
This Shingon school temple was established in 1611 in Kanda, and was moved here in 1658. The temple grounds are very lush and green with lots of flowers such as azaleas and hydrangeas. It is also one of the temples where you can still see bullet holes in the gate from the Battle of Ueno (1868).
Gate at Chōkyūin.
Name in Japanese: 長久院
Zenshōan is a Rinzai school temple established in 1883 and the most “recent” temple on this whole walk. The main attraction of this temple is their collection of ghost scrolls (called yurei-ga in Japanese) that are on display only during August. Read more about Zenshōan in my full article.
Zenshōan main temple building.
Name in Japanese: 全生庵
Nichiren temple famous for its monument stone dedicated to Osen, a beautiful girl who used to work in a tea house and model of Suzuki Harunobu, a renowned ukiyo-e artist of the 1760s, who is remembered in the same monument. It is unclear when exactly it was established, but documents go back to the late 17th century. Read more about Daienji in my full article.
Name in Japanese: 大円寺
Shingi Shingon school temple established in 1611 in Kanda and moved to its current location in 1680. It is located right next to the start of the Tsuji-bei wall, a remnant from the Edo period (1603-1868), constructed by alternatively piling mud and tiles. This wall is part of next door Kannon-ji temple.
The red gate of Kanōin stands out.
Name in Japanese: 加納院
I close this list with another Nichiren temple, established in 1655. Apart from the beautiful main building, this temple also stands out due to the bullet holes on the gate, as we saw with Chōkyūin earlier, dating back from the Battle of Ueno (1868)
The withered gate of Kyōōji, including holes.
Name in Japanese: 経王寺